Mexican Searchers Request State Protection in Search for Disappeared from Inter-American Commission

Searching mothers from Jalisco and Sonora during a search brigade in Tlajomulco, Jalisco, in 2022. PHOTO: FERNANDO CARRANZA GARCÍA (CUARTOSCURO)

In a hearing held in Washington this Wednesday, the families of missing people denounce the violence they suffer in their searches, from criminal groups and security forces.

The drama of the disappeared in Mexico now transcends the original tragedy and unfolds in different layers of horror, nothing new behind closed doors. This Wednesday, relatives of missing persons from various regions of the country, such as Sinaloa or Guanajuato, appeared at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, to shed light on one of the new layers, a consequence of the oldest: the reprisals they suffer for searching for their own kin.

It is endless pain. Within the framework of the war against organized crime, a period that covers at least the last 17 years, missing people number in the tens of thousands in Mexico. In addition to the obvious demand that this situation, the constant disappearance of people, continues over time, the families of those absent demand conditions for the search, a request that illuminates, in reality, another governmental omission: its inability to search and find them. That in the best of cases.

It is not safe to search for the missing. Raymundo Sandoval, from the Platform for Justice and Peace in Guanajuato, has informed the IACHR that “threats and forced displacements are often consequences of the searches.” Sandoval recalled that, since 2010, at least 20 searchers have been murdered in the country, the majority during the current administration, chaired by Andrés Manuel López Obrador. After the hearing, the organizations and groups of relatives of missing persons who appeared before the IACHR have corrected the figure upwards. There are actually 22.

Alejandra Martínez, sister of Ismael Martínez, who disappeared on July 12th, 2020, in Sinaloa, recalled the case of a colleague from her group, Rosario Lilián. The woman was looking for her son Fernando, who disappeared in La Cruz, Sinaloa, in 2019. She was murdered in 2022. “Rosario organized a mass for the International Day of Victims of Disappearance. On leaving, an organized crime group took her away. She was found lying on a road at midnight,” Martínez recalled. “Her body was wrapped in the tarp that carried the photo of her son. They beat her to death and drove a truck over her. The prosecutor told us that there were people held, but a journalist confirmed that no one was arrested. Then, the prosecutor denied having told us that she had been detained,” he added.

Martínez explained that, before her murder, the woman had received threats of all kinds. She had also suffered attacks. “Months before, they doused her house with gasoline and set it on fire while she was inside. She extinguished it. Then, her truck was stolen. She never reported the facts, but she made it known to the head of the Undersecretary of Human Rights of the Government of Sinaloa and to us,” the woman explained. “She did not report because she thought the prosecutor’s office could be involved. In a search, a month before her murder, a municipal police patrol arrived, with a civilian. That civilian spoke to Rosario and told her, ‘what the hell do you want!’, and warned her to stop searching. She repeated that she just wanted to know where her son was,” she insisted.

Martínez’s testimony, Lilián’s sufferings, are a window to the evils that afflict the country regarding the disappearance of people. It is not just that criminal groups disappear by the thousands, kill many, and hide their remains in graves, or dispose of them. The thing is that the State has not developed the capacity to contain this situation and lead the search for the missing. Furthermore, on many occasions it becomes an obstacle, if not, directly, a re-victimizing agent. Martínez has told her story: “We were extorted by agents from the Prosecutor’s Office, who used the information we gave them when we made the complaint, to write to us saying that they had my brother. Today, they are being prosecuted for that.”

Bibiana Mendoza, whose brother disappeared in Irapuato, Guanajuato in 2018, insisted on the damage of the search process. Far from inaugurating reparation, it becomes a parallel punishment. “When we carry out searches, we often do so in territories controlled by criminal groups that operate with authorization and support from State agents. It is necessary to remove crime from the power it has over our communities, authorities, and over the Mexican armed forces,” she said.

The president of the hearing, Andrea Pochak, special rapporteur of the IACHR for Mexico, has described as intolerable the fact that “going out to look for loved ones implies putting one’s own life at risk.” Pochak has also had a shot at the López Obrador Government. Although she has celebrated “the institutional measures to address the problem, the different laws on disappearance and search, the protection and care mechanisms for victims,” she has regretted the “serious setbacks in this institutionality, the lack of implementation of the laws, the lack of resources in the mechanisms and lack of articulation between state agencies.”

The latter pointed to the dismantling of the apparatus of the defense and promotion of human rights by the López Obrador Government, especially in terms of searching for missing persons and forensic identification. A few weeks ago, Mexico learned, for example, of the practical abandonment of the National Human Identification Center, designed precisely to improve the identification capabilities of human remains found in graves these years, or hidden due to negligence or incapacity, in mass graves. At the same time, the purges within the National Search Commission have ended the logic implemented in the first years of the administration, focused on mapping and understanding the magnitude of the problem.

Original article by Pablo Ferri at
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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